Angoon YCC: Next Generation of Stewards Work on Their Traditional Lands

In its second year, the Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) provided meaningful summer employment opportunities and new experiences for four students from Angoon, Alaska. Angoon is a small, rural community with a population of less than 500 residents. It is the only community on Admiralty Island, a landscape of over 1 million acres within the Tongass National Forest that is managed primarily as National Monument and Kootznoowoo Wilderness.

For more than 10,000 years, the Tlingit people have been thoughtful stewards of their rainforest homeland. The Angoon community remains steeped in pride for preserving its Tlingit way of life and to being stewards of their traditional lands in balance with meeting the need for economic development and jobs. Like many rural and tribal communities, Angoon’s economy struggles with high unemployment rates and reduced services for career skill development. By engaging Angoon’s youth in hands-on stewardship activities on present day National Forest lands, the community is ensuring those traditions endure for generations to come.

The YCC partnership is more than a youth jobs program or a lands stewardship project. It’s a community of partners who share a deep interest in and vision for meeting the needs of Angoon, the youth, the forest, and the broader southeast Alaska region.  “Our support of the Angoon Youth Conservation Corps is central to our mission as a company and a neighbor,” said Mike Satre, manager of government and community relations at Hecla Greens Creek Mine located on Admiralty Island. “When we’re able to contribute to providing opportunity and skills for the young people in the communities where we live and work, then we all benefit.”

Over the course of eight weeks in the summer of 2016, the youth worked hand-in-hand with Forest Service Wilderness Rangers and a crew leader from the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) to clean up debris from 16 miles of beach, survey 11 miles of shoreline for invasive plants, record locations of cultural resources for USFS archeologists, inventory and rehabilitate campsites, spend 48 hours monitoring Wilderness solitude values, complete maintenance on 2 Forest Service cabins, improve trails, and build a community greenhouse. Perhaps less tangible but more enduring are the rewards and benefits of new experiences and the pride of accomplishment. For the young crew members, the time spent on the stewardship projects was the first time they had the opportunity to explore their traditional homelands beyond the boundaries of their community. For most of the crew, it was their first paid job. For all, it was their first experience kayaking, hiking, and sleeping in a tent.

In addition to the generous support and engagement of the Hecla Charitable Foundation, the YCC partnership includes: the Forest Service, the Chatham School District, the Angoon Community Association tribal organization, SEACC, the City of Angoon, and the National Forest Foundation. The partners are already looking toward 2017 to build on the success of the Angoon YCC program. Through the partnership, the Angoon YCC program will continue to provide outdoor opportunities and experiences for Angoon youth and in doing so promote physical, mental, and spiritual health; enhance community identity and sense of place; help bond family and friends; and foster citizen stewardship of the Nation’s forests and grasslands. 

Angoon YCC Crew kayaking

2016AngoonYCCCrew (Kevin Mitchell, Desiree Jamestown, Dixie George, Elizabeth O’Brien). Caption: The Angoon YCC crew members on their first trip to Hood Bay.
After their first trip, the team was proud of their accomplishments and excited to spend more time in the Wilderness and paddling.

Angoon YCC Crew on the trail

YCC Trail: (Kevin Mitchell and ?). Angoon YCC members work on a Forest Service trail maintenance near Youngs Lake on Admiralty Island.